Page last updated at 12:06 GMT, Monday, 14 July 2008 13:06 UK

Marine bill 'can strike balance'

Scotland's seas are home to a rich variety of wildlife, including porpoises

Energy investment in Scotland's seas can be balanced with protecting marine wildlife and seabirds, the Scottish Government has claimed.

The comments came as Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead launched a consultation on Scotland's Marine Bill.

Campaigners urged the government to use a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to protect the marine environment.

The bill has plans for a new marine planning system and a streamlined process to encourage renewable energy.

Environmental groups want the bill to include strong measures to protect seas around the country and the wildlife they contain.

We have huge potential to increase economic growth from our seas but need to do so in a sustainable way
Richard Lochhead
Environment Secretary
They are also calling for a management group to take charge of planning, licensing and enforcement at sea.

Scotland's coasts are home to a rich variety of wildlife, including whales, dolphins and porpoises, while the fishing industry and developing renewables sector are key parts of the Scottish economy.

Mr Lochhead said: "Striking the right balance between the long-term viability and growth of all these industries and the enhanced protection of our special marine environment is at the heart of our proposed bill.

"We need a new relationship with the seas to safeguard this unique and precious resource for future generations."

Mr Lochhead said 60% of food exports came from the sea, worth 422m to the economy.

He also promised to improve conservation, including measures to protect internationally important seabirds.

Kittiwake and chick [Pic: RSPB]
Kittiwakes are among the seabirds said to be having breeding problems
"We have huge potential to increase economic growth from our seas but need to do so in a sustainable way," he added.

The minister said the proposals would be overseen by a new organisation, Marine Scotland, pulled together from existing groups.

He stressed the government would continue to push for more devolved powers on marine planning and nature conservation from Westminster.

But environmentalists claim there is evidence of a decline in marine species and habitats, giving rise to growing concerns about the impact of human activity.

Jonny Hughes, head of policy at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: "The bill should herald the dawn of a new era for Scotland's seas, one in which caring for the health of the marine environment is afforded top priority."

There is already too much evidence of the damage done
Andrew Bachell
National Trust for Scotland
Calum Duncan, chair of umbrella group Scottish Environment Link, said: "We believe that the bill is a once in a lifetime opportunity to set tough targets to protect our wildlife."

Mr Duncan, who is also Scottish conservation manager for the Marine Conservation Society, said any legislation "must have the marine environment at its heart" and should also be closely linked to the UK Marine Bill.

WWF Scotland's marine policy officer Helen McLachlan said: "Scotland has the lion's share of the UK's fishing industry, so it is vital to ensure that our valuable seas and their resources are managed and protected in the most effective way."

Lloyd Austin, of RSPB Scotland, said recent reports showed seabird populations were declining.

He called for the bill to bring about "a true policy shift to put the environment at the heart of decision-making".

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation, said: "What must not happen is for Scotland's seas to turn into a glorified marine aquarium.

"In the terrestrial environment, farming operations, urban development and protected conservation areas can all co-exist together."

Green energy trade body Scottish Renewables said the bill would play an "important role" in helping the government meet green energy targets.

Chief executive Jason Ormiston added: "There are companies ready to invest billions in Scotland's marine power industry and a planning process that fast-tracks good projects that are sensitive to biodiversity issues will be a key factor in whether that money is pumped into this young industry over the next 20 years."

'Serious concern' over seabirds
11 Jul 08 |  North East/N Isles
Task force to shape marine laws
03 Jan 08 |  Scotland
Marine conservation plea issued
10 Oct 07 |  South of Scotland
Proposals to simplify marine law
19 Jun 07 |  Scotland

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